The life of a locum vet is definitely a varied one. It has been a fantastic experience visiting so many practices, all with different ways of working.
Since graduating four years ago, I had only worked in one practice. The opportunity to go to so many others as a locum has given me great insight into the variation and different work practices. There have been many advantages – the top being seeing working practices that are effective and manageable, and those that, in contrast, work less well.
These working practices and ethos contribute hugely to team cohesiveness. It is amazing how quickly you pick up on whether a practice team is happy. This also makes a huge difference to how enjoyable your day as a locum will be.
A level of stress is always involved in starting at a new practice and, inevitably, you want to make a good impression with staff and clients. However, meeting so many different, interesting and lovely people has actually been one of my favourite things about the work.
Building a rapport quickly is important, as this may be the only time you see the clients and, in many cases, have to have been acceptable as a replacement for their usual vet. So far I’ve been happily surprised to have very few people say “you’re not who I usually see, where is he/she?”.
I accept this may be to do with many of the practices requiring locums – so often that clients are used to it – and, therefore, it is not necessarily a reflection of my communication skills.
I have witnessed so many types of veterinary business – from small single independent practices to large, low-cost veterinary service providers. Each works in its own way to provide what it sets out to do. It has been interesting to see how you have to adapt to each one, and each needs a different set of veterinary and communication skills.
Something I have noticed is the majority of practices have switched to 15-minute consults. I think this is great progress in improving the quality of care for clients, and when I now return to 10-minute consults, I appreciate how much difference the extra 5 minutes can make – particularly the chance it gives to write up comprehensive notes, dispense medications and address as many owner concerns as possible.
An obvious advantage to locum work is the opportunity it gives you, to a large degree, to decide on and manage work hours. After the initial period of accepting every job I was offered, I had to adapt and be more disciplined in what I agree to, to keep things sustainable.
The higher rate of pay means it is possible to work fewer days (such as working four-day weeks) to keep a similar income, although your income may take a while to reach you, depending on if you invoice practices directly or a locum agency pays you.
The hours per day tend to be longer than in a full-time position as, understandably, most practices want to get the most value for money out of their locums. I have also found the commutes are significantly longer. Spending an hour each way driving to a practice can become fairly normal, so, again, this increases the length of the days you end up working.
Something to bear in mind is, since 2016, you are no longer allowed to claim mileage when driving to work. If the job involves home visits or driving between branches, this will be covered. Despite the long days, it gives you more freedom to pick when you work and allow a few more free weekends.
Locum work has given me a confidence boost in my abilities and made me more decisive about a course of action. The opportunities for case discussions can be more difficult – particularly if you are the only vet around. Although this has its advantages, I sometimes miss having colleagues to discuss cases with. Where a larger number of vets are in a practice, they are normally happy to discuss cases, and the communication between all of us is important for the continuity of care once you are not there.
I have found most practices will put locums on to consulting-only shifts (not surprisingly). For me, the lack of surgery time is a definite drawback as I really enjoy this aspect – although it does make the days when you do surgery all the more exciting.
A struggle to recruit full-time vets seems to exist, which has been evident during my relatively short time as a locum. Half the practices I’ve worked for have asked me to apply for their full-time vacancies on my first day. With lots of people feeling frustrated about the lack of work-life balance, I can understand why many are leaving permanent full-time roles.
I am interested to see how the profession adapts – it feels like some changes may need to happen ahead.